Posts tagged ‘Royal River Hotel’
Arriving at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport long past 11:00 p.m. on a July evening, I transformed from a drowsy denizen of giant metal flying machines into a dazzled and grateful traveller, amazed to actually be standing on solid ground at my destination: Thailand. Like the magnificent red and gold doorway greeting placed to greet passengers stumbling in from the jetway, this handsome sala on the concourse reminded me that I was back in Thailand, where visual celebrations of Thai culture enliven everyday places and moments.
Murals like this vision of a lotus pond and another with a still life of mangosteens, durian, rambutan, pineapple, lychees and other Thai fruits lined the gleaming cavernous passageways leading into the main terminal. Had I not been on a moving sidewalk, I would have tried to photograph every one. The restrooms featured flourishing orchids, duplicating their lovely presence in the mirrors.
Even the boards informing passengers where our luggage could be picked up tickled me, with the listings of arriving flights. Nothing so familiar to me as Denver, Philadelphia, Boston, and Miami; there I was in a place where jets zoom in from Guangzhou and Hanoi, Seoul and Macau, Vientiane and Hong Kong, Manila and Singapore. I easily found my refrigerator-sized rolling suitcase, cleared customs speedy-quick, and found the taxi stand, where I was soon paired up with a driver who stowed it handily in the trunk of his small sedan and headed us off toward my hotel.
To my delight, the trunk of his taxi not only accomodated my massive suitcase but also held a sticky-rice serving basket, his old-school lunchbox, tucked over to one side. This pleased me: Some things continued as I remembered them from 37 years ago. The sparkling airport, the elevated expressway, and the highrise Bangkok skyline visible from the taxi confirmed that much had changed since 1978, when I departed from Bangkok’s original Don Muang Airport, at the end of my Peace Corps service in 1978.
The taxi driver’s lunch and the night markets we passed now and then as we sped through the city reminded me that while I had eaten fairly recently on the airplanes carrying me from North Carolina to Atlanta, to Tokyo, and then to Bangkok…..
….I had not dined to my heart’s delight, nor had I enjoyed even a morsel of Thai food. I considered asking the driver to drop me off at one of the night markets, but given my massive suitcase and carry-on’s, such nimble and spontaneous actions were not on the menu.
But once I arrived at my hotel, checked in, and got settled in my sixth-floor room with river view, I spied the Room Service Menu. And did I see the magic words, “24-Hour” Room Service Menu? I did indeed. This made me so happy. But what to choose? Laab Mu (minced pork salad with Thai herbs? Tod Mun Plaa (deep-fried fish cakes with cucumber salad)? or Gaeng Peht Beht Yahng (red curry roast duck)?
Well, none of the above, since the “Not available after midnight” caveat applied to my moment in time. But turning the page, I found the perfect supper, the ideal late-night Thai comfort food: kao tome, rice soup. Much as I love jook, Chinese-style rice soup made by slow-and-long-simmering of raw rice grains in lots of water to create a lovely porridge, I absolutely adore Thailand’s version, made by simmering cooked rice into a clear but hearty and comforting soup.
Kao tome comes with seasonings, some added and some on the side as kreung brung rote, or flavor-adjusters. Vinegar with chilies, fish sauce, dried ground red chilies, and sugar are the basic, standard offerings. My soup already ‘dressed’ up just right, with chopped cilantro, green onions, crispy garlic fried in oil, and minced pickled radish scattered on top, enhancing the finely chopped pork dropped into boiling water during cooking to make soup.
Even though kao tome is a meal in a bowl (especially popular with those recovering from or en route to a hangover), I ordered myself a plate of rice and nahm plah prik, fish sauce with finely chopped fresh hot chilis. My feast arrived in about 20 minutes, the amount of time it took to turn rice into kao tome. Finishing touch: a Singha beer, Thai-style, with ice, the way I like it, so the heat doesn’t warm it up.
While I ate my first meal back in Thailand, I thought of many late-night kao tome meals taken at the restaurants along the major highways, where air-conditioned Thai tour buses stop halfway through their all-night express runs in to Bangkok from up-country cities and towns. At first I found it odd that the buses stop around 1:00 a.m. at a designated restaurant and travel center, so that everyone can get off, shop a little, use the facilities, and then eat a bowl of kao tome which is included in the price whether you eat it or not. But what a good idea: The drivers can stretch and have a bit of ‘lunch’, and what a boost to my ability to fall asleep for the remainder of the trip, awaking just as sunrise informed us that the bus was nearly to our destination. So many good memories, often food-centered, each one leading me to another. It was after 2:00 a.m. by the time I set my tray out in the hall and went out to my balcony to enjoy the river view.
I can’t share my supper with you, but I can let you join me on the balcony of my hotel room for a taste of the sights and sounds of the Chao Praya River very late at night. Click HERE for a peek via my Vimeo files. I thought I was too excited to fall asleep, but once I turned off the light, I drifted in to a sweet, sound sleep. For me, kao tome works every time.
A tall cool Thai iced coffee, brought to my table at a small, delightful Bangkok cafe, one which became instant headquarters for many of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers gathered at the Royal River Hotel during July for Peace Corps Thailand 50th Anniversary celebrations. Check my blogpost HERE about my first meal there, a fantastic lunch made even more delightful by the company with whom I shared it: Ellie and Paul, two PCV’s I met during my Peace Corps Thailand time.
CLICK HERE for the video tour of the restaurant, featuring other wonderful Peace Corps folks and a beauty shot of ‘kai jiow‘, Thai omelet with the original Sri Rachaa Sauce on the side. Other PCV friends include Linda, Carolyn, and Pat. More names coming. And I will find out the name of the restaurant. I took it for granted, because there it was, coming and going many times a day. If you’re coming in toward the hotel, it’s on the right, about halfway up and just before the small canal. Here’s the Royal River Hotel website, with which to find the lane, Soi Charansanitwong, off Rajwithii Road at Krung Thon Bridge, west bank of the Chao Praya River, Thonburi Side.
CLICK HERE for the blogpost with photos of our meal.
Thai iced coffee delivers a particular pleasure, as it’s seasoned with roasted spices and made superstrong, generously sweetened and enriched with my favorite, evaporated milk. This was one of many food-moments in which I found things I remembered from my long-ago Thailand days unchanged, unspoiled, still fantastic and still right there, woven into everyday Thai life. Look for Thai coffee powder in plump cellophane bags in Asian markets, if you’re hankering to try it at home. Iced and with milk, it’s ‘cah-fey yen‘. Iced without milk, it’s ‘o-liang‘.
My first day back in Thailand (overview post HERE), my friends Ellie and Paul and I took a short walk out the door of the Royal River Hotel and down the lane to a small cafe recommended by Friends of Thailand leader and dear pal Carolyn Nickels-Cox. It’s an open-air place with six or eight tables, turquoise-blue walls, and a beverage-making set-up with the fixings for fruit smoothies, sodas, lemonade, and an espresso machine. We ordered three dishes with rice, and each of them was fantastic. Except for the espresso machine and a few electronic devices, we could have been Peace Corps volunteers taking a lunch break back in 1977. Recipes will follow down the road, but for today, just feast your eyes.
I love tom yum, one of Thailand’s simple, brilliant soups. I must have enjoyed it a dozen times during my short journey, and I could never get tired of it. Lemongrass and galanga, wild lime leaves, fresh chilies, roasted chili paste (nahm prik pao), fish sauce, and a squeeze of lime juice — a line up of sharp, bright flavors, essentially Thai. This tom yum featured shrimp, fresh straw mushrooms, green onions and cilantro leaves. Here it’s often served as a Western-style first course, sans rice, but in Thailand it comes to the table as one of the ‘with-rice’ dishes: Perfection.
I had been longing for this dish, moo paht bai graprao, pork stir-fried with holy basil. In the West it’s very seldom made with ‘bai graprao’, or holy basil, as that herb is delicate and not widely available. Asian basil (bai horapah) is usually substituted and while it’s delicious, nothing tastes as marvelous as holy basil. Upcountry it’s usually made with hand-chopped meat, but even with sliced pork, it was so very good.
Nobody has to be persuaded to “Eat Your Vegetables!” when the vegetables come to the table from a Thai kitchen. This is pahk boong fai daeng, water spinach stir-fried with garlic. This hollow-stemmed vegetable is beloved throughout Asia. The Taiwanese name is kong shing tsai, which can be translated as ‘empty heart’, referring to the hollow stems of each delicate stalk.
These three dishes with lots of rice made us all so happy and satisfied. Some things in Thailand have changed, and many have remained the same. I took this photo of my personal serving of tom yum in order to show you the fresh straw mushrooms, cut in half and imbued with the tart fiery deliciousness of this soup. Just an ordinary little lunch, with good friends, at the local joint around the corner, back in Thailand. So delicious.
This gilded red doorway loomed majestically before me when I stepped from a long, meandering jetway into the G Concourse of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport just before midnight on July 10th, 2012. What a glorious sight, soaring up twice as tall as me, placed to greet arriving passengers first thing. I felt perfectly, handsomely welcomed back to Thailand, where I had spent three years as a Peace Corps volunteer, 1975 to 1978. I had returned once, for a 3 month visit in 1989, to research my first cookbook. That first return-visit to Thailand thrilled and delighted me, and I vowed to return soon and often. Instead, 23 more years rolled on by.
Thanks to Friends of Thailand, an organization of returned Peace Corps volunteers and others who love Thailand, I finally returned this month, July of 2012, for celebrations and reunions. The occasion: Peace Corps Thailand’s 50th anniversary, celebrated beautifully through a memorable series of events in Bangkok, July 11 - 18, 2012. So many extraordinary experiences, grand times, amazing sights, precious people, glorious feasts, everyday snacks, insights, memories, and inspirations keep my mind whirring, some ten days since my return home. I’ll be taking it all in and sharing things here for a good while, in small portions. For now, here is an outline of my journey.
A water-taxi pulling away from the dock near The Royal River Hotel on the Chao Phraya River, Thonburi side. This was headquarters for the Friends of Thailand 50th Anniversary Celebrations. In the background is the Krung Thon Bridge, also known as Sapahn Sang Hi.
Kickoff event Wednesday, July 11th, a delightful dinner hosted by Friends of Thailand and Peace Corps Thailand at the Royal River Hotel. Photo collages share images of some of the 5000 Peace Corps volunteers who have served in Thailand over the 50 years since Group #1 arrived in 1962.
A Thai food buffet fueled reunions with old friends and colleagues and meet-ups with new ones, as well as with Peace Corps staff, past and present.
Highlight of a marvellous evening was my joyful reunion with Khun Alisaa, who had just begun working at Peace Corps Thailand when my group, Thai #51, arrived in the spring of 1975. She remains beautiful, delightful, and kind, and she actually remembered nervous me, age 23, from my newbie days, 37 years ago.
Thursday night, July 13, currently-serving Peace Corps volunteers joined us old-timers, Peace Corps staff, and many others for a fantastic reception at the beautiful and inviting United States Embassy Residence, hosted by US Ambassador to Thailand Kristie A. Kenney.
On Friday morning, we were welcomed at the Ministry of Interior of the Kingdom of Thailand, for a magnificent event celebrating the fifty years Thailand has welcomed the US Peace Corps and Peace Corps volunteers. The highlight of this auspicious and memorable gathering was the presence of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
In this photograph from the Ministry of the Interior’s website HERE, Her Royal Highness enjoys visiting the exhibits chronicling Peace Corps’s presence in Thailand, 1962-2012 during this memorable celebratory event.
I loved every minute of this beautiful morning, especially the chance to meet these two wonderful young people, current Peace Corps volunteers, Jeffrey Jackson and Christine Duffy, who are currently serving in Surin province, where I spent my two years, 1975-1978. They are two of the 112 PCV’s currently serving in 47 provinces throughout the Thai kingdom.
We finished this marvellous day with an unforgettable celebration at the lovely headquarters of Peace Corps Thailand, a grand vintage Thai house transformed into a handsome office and home base for all the activities and good work of Peace Corps Thailand. Walking along one of Bangkok’s ultra-busy major thoroughfares,with traffic sounds and bustling daily life, I did not imagine how magically we would be transported from 21st Century Bangkok hustle-bustle to a sweet, welcoming, lovely paradise created by Khun Salinee and the Peace Corps Staff. I’ll never forget coming through the the doors and gateways behind the high thick walls of the compound, to be greeted by Thai music, flowers, smiles, sweets, gifts, and greetings which went on for hours in the dearest way.
Here some members of Peace Corps Thailand staff are posing for a photograph on the flower-lined steps leading up to the house.
The most wonderful and precious part of my Thailand adventures began on Saturday morning, July 14, when I traveled back to my Peace Corps site in Thatum, Surin, to see my students. Much to share on this, over time. My heart is still too full, and the number of people and events too big, for me to do anything more right this minute than to broach the subject, with this photograph. Here I am with some of the many, many students who came to greet me during my short visit — four days in all. These wonderful people were between 11 and 14 years old when I taught them English in 1975. We all remember each other very very well. What a blessing to be able to go back and to find so many of these dear people there, and ready to come greet me and spend time together. (This isn’t even everyone; just the first gathering on the first morning of my visit. Many more pictures and stories to come.) What a blessing; what a gift.
Here, my former student, Ajarn Riat Prombut, who is now an outstanding English teacher in Burirum Province, teaches a short lesson to the students in an elementary school English class led by my new friend, Christine Duffy, currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Surin province. Tuesday morning, July 17th, 2012.
Here, my former student, Miss Nattayabhorn, poses with me by a portrait of His Royal Highness King Rama IX, in the main hall of Hulaumpong Train Station in Bangkok. I had just arrived on an overnight train from Surin, and she and her lovely daughter came to meet me and see me back to my hotel. It was 5:55 a.m. on Wednesday, July 18th, 2012. That day included an amazing and special tour of the Grand Palace, graciously hosted by RPCV Geoffrey Longfellow; and then a spirited and memorable farewell dinner back at the Royal River Hotel, where many of us RPCV’s who had gathered for the week’s events enjoyed one more feast. A powerful and moving evening of reflections on our time in Thailand, past and present.
On my last day, Thursday, July 19, Miss Nattayabhorn picked me up from my hotel, wrestled my massive suitcase into her car, and drove me up to Ayutthaya Province, north of Bangkok, to visit another former student. While she drove (Don’t worry: The driver is on the righthandside in Thailand; this is my leftside view from the passenger seat, na kha?), I looked up fun things on her i-pad, including a Thai country song I adore, “Clai Bahn”, as classroom favorites “Fly Me To The Moon”, “Muhammad Ali”, and “500 Miles”.
When I looked up from researching songs and such, I realized we were travelling on one of the most beautiful and dazzling bridges in the whole wide world. Okay, I might be wrong; I haven’t actually been on that many bridges, but I can’t imagine this wouldn’t be in the running for most magnificent, with multiple golden spires like this one.
Here I am at my student Ganyaa’s school in Ayutthaya Province, with a charming and dear gathering of students who have just finished playing Thai classical music for our listening pleasure. (Video to come.) Some students are wearing their Girl Guides and Boy Scouts uniforms. To my left is Principal Ganyaa, and to my right is the charming and delightful teacher, Ajarn Preeda. So sorry I do not have a photograph of Ajarn Khwunta, who was visiting the school that day, and kindly took these photographs for me.
Here I am in front of one of the welcoming signs in my honor, with Principal Ganyaa, my former student, and Ajarn Sawang, who teaches Thai classical music to the students each week.
So many moments, both majorly dramatic and everyday ones. How lovely to be riding along the highway, looking out at rice fields and schools and towns and snack stands and daily life. Every moment felt precious and deep and rich and sweet.
An early morning stroll in my town, Thatum, passing a banana tree flanked by two major patches of lemongrass.
It wasn’t a research trip, but culinary treasures found me constantly, including this delightful noodle vendor whose “kwaytiow reua”, boat noodles, were fantastic, even at 3 pm on a steamy-hot afternoon. I wish I had me a bowl right now. Just one of the small reasons to get back over there, not that I don’t have a gracious plenty of irresistible reasons, (dear and beloved people) without even going to the category of Thai food.
My last night, I was welcomed by Ajarn Ruchirek and Ajarn Pallop, friends of Miss Nattayabhorn, who hosted me in their lovely home for a wonderful (and most delicious) farewell dinner and a good night’s rest before my long plane journey. Here are Miss Nattayabhorn and Principal Ganyaa to my left, and Ajarn Ruchirek and Ajarn Pallop to my right.
Back at the airport, on the morning of July 20th, 2012. It’s about 3 a.m. Thai time. People were sleeping; but not Miss Nattyabhorn and her husband, who got up super-early to drive me there and see me off on my journey home.
So many amazing, powerful, hilarious, sweet, rich and indelible memories from a relatively short journey: All of twelve days. So many people, so much generosity and kindness. Details will flow here, over time. For now, I must say that without this good and dear person, Ajarn Riat Prombut, (with his lovely wife Ajarn Ampai), who was my student back in Thatum Surin in the mid 1970′s, this journey would not have happened. Dedicated, energetic, generous, and so very patient (!) and creative in getting me where I wanted to go. Even on the last day, when I wanted to visit PCV Christine Duffy, but forgot to get the address, much less any directions, Ajarn Riat made it happen. Before and during my trip, he planted the seeds, made the connections, arranged and adapted, and created a glorious sweet visit I will never forget.
My plane took off at 5:45 a.m., and my last glimpse of Thailand left me hungry for more. (Delta Airlines Bangkok/Tokyo/Atlanta/RDU). It’s not a matter of whether to go back; it’s only a matter of when. I am working on it. Meantime, so much to remember, contemplate and enjoy, and share here, over time.
Leaving Thailand was difficult and sad. It felt like I had just gotten started on a new chapter, while in the process of revisiting an old chapter; remembering and reflecting while feasting on Thai food and enjoying reunions with so many dear and wonderful people. But how good it felt to come on back home. I missed my family so much. Next time they must come along with me! On my first afternoon back home, the hot (HOT!) summer sky cracked wide open with a thunder and lightning storm of Biblical proportions, the way that North Carolina thunderstorms can do. As the storm was moving out, I ventured out into the front yard and found this double rainbow. It felt personal. Auspicious, appropriate, comforting, sweet. It was and is good to be home, and it’s good to be thinking about my next Thai adventure.